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300 Seconds Episode #113: “2020 The Year in Me-View”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number one hundred and thirteen: “Twenty-twenty, the Year in Me-view” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

A quick note before I begin: It is almost nine o’clock as I record this, so you will likely hear my neighbors getting an early jump on the festivities.  I was tempted to wait until tomorrow to record this, but it just didn’t feel right.  And now, on with the show. 

What can I say?  It’s been a crazy year, and like all y’all, I can split up the fifteen months of 2020 into before and after the coronavirus upended life as we know it…or rather, knew it, because as the last day of this year comes to a close, we are still a long way from being back to anything even approaching normal.

When 2020 began, life was pretty good; I had just started a new job two days before Christmas, and I was back to living in my own place after staying with the family for a bit while I got my job situation worked out.

And now, hours before the year is over, I have just started a new job two weeks before Christmas and I’m back to living with family after living on my own for a bit while I get my job situation worked out.           

That said, life is still pretty good.

I started off the year with a new job at a night school, and except for the weirdo night school schedule, it was a pretty nice gig.  In fact, for the first time in my career, I had an actual office with a door and everything, which was pretty doggone sweet.  The end of February bought with it Furry Fiesta which, as always, was a load of fun, and indeed, would be the last big fun thing I would do before the pandemic hit.

Of course, March bought with it the big shut down.  I did the work from home thing for a while until the Powers That Be figured out that, one: there were too many remote techs for the small amount of work to do, and two, things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon.  Thus, I was laid off from my job at the end of April and suddenly found myself with way too much time on my hands, as the old song goes.

In an effort to stave off cabin fever by giving myself something to do, I started reading one of Aesop’s fables every day from a book that I had back in May.  I have managed to do a pretty good job of keeping up with it and I’ll be finished with the book sometime in mid-February.  In June, I had another one of those doctor visits.  Those of you who are a bit on the heavier side will know what I mean when I say that.  I had made some progress with my weight loss; I was down a bit from my heaviest weight, which was good, but I still had work to do, so in July, I decided to finally get serious about losing weight. 

Thinking back, starting a weight loss plan at that point in time was perfect: I couldn’t go out to eat as often and, being out of work, I had lots of extra time to develop good habits like keeping track of my eating, measuring out portions, and of course, exercising.  When it’s all said and done, I should be down more or less about thirty pounds on the year, partially depending on how much awful eating I do at home today.  I have my next checkup in January, and I’m actually looking forward to it.

Speaking of home, I had a decision to make as the end of my apartment lease at the end of September came closer and closer.  I had been searching, but job prospects were pretty dismal.  Since being laid off in April, I had only been called for two virtual job interviews.  Thus, I decided to move back in with family, just like I had done in 2019. 

I did land a two-month contract job in September which turned into a longer contract.  Godwilling, will take me beyond the end of this coronavirus mess.  Until then, I have a job, a roof over my head, family, and faith that things will get better in the new year, and you know what?  That’s pretty good.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I burn my calendar.  I am Eduardo Soliz, if you’d like to hear more wonderfully witty words that I’ve written, subscribe via your favorite podcast app and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more.  Thank you for listening.  Be Good, Take Care, God Bless and here’s to a better 2021!

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300 Seconds Episode #112: “A Furry Thing Happened on the Way to the Convention”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number one hundred and 112, “A Furry Thing Happened on the Way to the Convention,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

For the last eight years and change, I have been a member of the furry community.  I have gone to furry conventions, written furry stories, published furry story collections, given furry presentations, taken lots of pictures of fursuiters, and made many new furry friends.  While my furry experience has been wonderful so far, like so many things in my life, it sometimes gets a little weird.  Okay, make that weirdER…

While not my first furry convention; Furry Fiesta 2013 was significant for me, because unlike the previous year, which was my first furcon, I now had a number of friends that were also going also to be there.  Just like everything else in life, having friends around makes conventions a lot more fun.

One evening during the convention, I went with some friends to eat at a restaurant.  The food was good, the company was pleasant, and we all enjoyed a nice meal.  While waiting to receive our checks, the manager approached our table and asked us how everything was.  We let her know that we were happy with the food and service.  She noticed that some of us were wearing our convention badges, so she asked if we were in town for a convention.  We answered that yes, we were, but nobody had an answer for the obvious follow-up question:

“What kind of convention is it?”

Everybody at the table, including myself, instantly froze up.  I have never before, in my entire life, seen seven grown adults go totally deer-in-headlights.  Everybody looked back and forth at each other, expecting somebody else to say something.  Finally, after about ten seconds of awkward silence, somebody said: “It’s an ART convention!”  That answer immediately snapped everybody out of their daze and the rest of the evening went on as expected.

For what it’s worth, I came up with a five-word explanation of furry that tends to satisfy most folk’s curiosity, and those five words are: “Nerds who like cartoon animals.”

For the last few years, I have presented educational panels at various conventions in Texas including RealmsCon, Comicpalooza, Fiesta Equestria, and San Japan.  I’ve talked about publishing e-books, recording audio, and of course, furries, in a panel called Furry 101.  The point of Furry 101 is to give outsiders the low-down on what furries are all about.  In the interest of full disclosure, I do also include some of the weird stuff, but since the panel is for an all-ages audience, I can’t go too far.

A few years ago at San Japan, I was presenting Furry 101 to an audience of about two hundred people, my largest audience ever.  As I’m doing so, I’m looking over my audience, making sure that I have their attention and looking to see that I don’t have too many people walking out.  One person that stuck out was a gentleman that looked to be a bit older.  Not super-old, mind you, but in an anime convention, if you’re over 40, you’re going to stick out a little bit.  I figured he was there with his child.  Much to my delight, he looked to be engaged in the presentation, but the expression on his face became, shall we say, less happy once I got to the weird stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that weird, but the presentation slide that mentions adult art certainly got his attention.  I felt terrible after the fact, thinking: “Oh my God. I have totally ruined furry for his kid.  They’re going to be locked away in their home forever and never be allowed to associate with those ‘animal people weirdos’ ever again.”

Fast forward a few months. Come to my surprise, I bumped into the gentleman and his child at Furry Fiesta.  If I remember correctly, his name was Kevin.  He thanked me for the presentation, much to my relief.  I’ve spoken with a few more parents after Furry 101 since then and have even come across a few folks that have joined the fandom after attending my panel.  Granted, the panel is not supposed to be a recruiting tool, but if folks want to join the club after the fact, who am I to argue?

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I insert more subliminal messages into my Furry 101 panel slides.  I am Eduardo Soliz, if you’d like to hear more 300 seconds subscribe via your favorite podcast app and check out my website at Eduardo Soliz dot com.  Thank you for listening!  Be good, take care, and God bless.

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300 Seconds Episode #111: “My Coronavirus Story Part 5: Back to Irk”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

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You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 111: “My Coronavirus Story Part 5: Back to Irk,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

After being laid off from my job back in April, or a few episodes ago, as the case may be, I started looking for a new job online, and, as many of you Dear Listeners are aware, the pickings in 2020 are pretty slim.  As in-person job fairs are out of the question right now, I attended online virtual job fairs which were just as virtually terrible as the real-life ones, so score one for consistency.

From May to September, I had a total of three interviews including one of those awful virtual ones where you awkwardly record answers to questions into your webcam.  Fortunately, the third time was the charm, and thus, I started a new contract-to-maybe-there’s-possibly-a-chance-you-might-just-could-be-hired gig a few weeks ago.  It would be an understatement to say that I’ve had to make just a few life adjustments in going back to living a nine-to-five life.

The biggest and most immediate adjustment I had to make was to my sleeping habits.  In my effort to lose weight, I had been waking up early in order to go for a walk in the mornings.  But as the Texas summer got hotter and hotter, I shifted to walking in the evenings which of course, meant sleeping in.  According to Google Maps, my new office was about thirty miles away.  That meant that I had to wake up pretty early to make it to work on time.  Funny thing about me:  I don’t have trouble waking up early.  Once I hear my alarm, I’m up.  No problem there.  But as a night owl, going to bed early is something of a challenge.  So while I might be up at five-thirty in the morning, I won’t exactly be “up and at ‘em.”

Thus, a morning commute became a thing again, and of course, with a commute comes traffic.  I had to drive from one side of San Antonio to the other, so my commute was going to be thirty miles of suck regardless of which route I took.  I eventually settled into taking the route that presented the most opportunities to stop for breakfast along the way.  Being stuck in a traffic jam is much easier to deal with when you have a Breakfast on a Bun from Whataburger along for the ride.

My new job has me working in an office, so that means I have to ‘mask up’ every day.  Since my pandemic travels up to this point were limited to the grocery store and the occasional drive-thru window, I had been making do with a few cloth masks, or the occasional shop towel mask whenever those were in the wash.  I now needed enough masks so that I could wear a different one each day.  I also had to get masks with solid colors or patterns that would be office-appropriate.  Of course, in the process of doing so, I ended up buying one or two that fit too tight because I have a big head.  Another fun big head thing that I have to deal with was that some masks would begin to irritate my ears after several hours of wearing.  Fortunately, I improvised an ‘ear saver’ using a rubber band and a pair of paper clips.

If there is one thing that I definitely need at work, it’s coffee.  I rarely drink it outside of the office, but when it’s provided by the company, then I am more than happy to partake.  When working from home, I would enjoy an occasional cup of Nescafe to keep the neurons firing.  I don’t know if this is how the new office works or if this is a virus thing, but there isn’t any coffee available at the office.  There aren’t any vending machines where I can grab a soda, either, and at the risk of being ‘that guy:’ I CAN’T WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but Will’s not here so I have to solve my own problems.  I happen to have a mini-fridge that holds six cans of soda.  I’d purchased it during my days as a field technician, but that’s a story for another time.  In any case, problem solved!  Almost.  In the interest of watching my budget, I bought generic diet cola.  I quickly began to notice that I wasn’t feeling the caffeine boost that I was accustomed to getting from a soda in the afternoon; my metaphorical tail was still dragging after chugging one down.  I randomly checked the ingredients on the can one day and discovered, to my horror, that generic soda contained less than half the caffeine of the name brand stuff.  I guess that’s why it costs a buck and a quarter for a six-pack!

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I set my alarm.  For more witty words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds Episode #109: “My Coronavirus Story Part 4: The New Sort-of Kind-of Not-Quite Normal”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 109: “My Coronavirus Story Part 4: The New Sort-of Kind-of Not-Quite Normal,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

The week after the office I worked at closed, the city of San Antonio went on lockdown.  Thus, I had to adjust to not only working at home, but also to being at home nearly all of the time.  I am a bit of a homebody, so being stuck at home wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was still annoying to not be able to go anywhere. 

One of the first things I did was to designate the dinner table as my home office in a feeble effort to keep some division between my home and work life.  For the most part, it worked fairly well, since my dining room table had not been getting much use anyway.  The only problem that came up was that I quickly learned how uncomfortable it was to be sitting on my unpadded wooden dining room chairs for several hours.  I eventually abandoned the dining room table for a cubbyhole in the apartment, which, while offering less desk space, did have an office chair that was much more comfortable to sit in.

Like most folks, I didn’t own any masks when the pandemic started hitting home.  I figured that if nothing else, I would have to eventually go to the grocery store, so I thought it would be a good idea to get some masks and be a responsible member of the community.  Additional motivation was provided by the fact that I have a few boxes checked off on my ‘if you catch this, you’re in deep trouble’ bingo card.

After doing some searching, I ordered some masks online from independent makers, but I needed something to tide me over while those got made and shipped.  My first attempt was the ‘cut up an old t-shirt’ method.  That ended up being a spectacular failure because I have a big head topped with a mass of thick curly hair.  Even working with a size double-XL shirt, I was unable to get it completely around my 23 and a half inch melon.  I’m also not the best with scissors, so there’s a pretty strong chance that I cut the pattern the wrong way.  I eventually found a bandana from high school that worked until I bought a roll of shop towels and made my own with staples and rubber bands.  Eventually the masks I ordered did arrive, and yes they did have animal prints on them.

Naturally, I have to mention the toilet paper thing.  Holy cats, if I live to be a hundred years old I will never understand what the hey that business was all about.  Fortunately for me, I live alone and my digestive system is fairly regular, so I don’t use too much, I don’t think.  That said, I didn’t want to be caught off guard, so I started keeping track of how long certain things, like toilet paper, lasted.  Originally, I was concerned with how long a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of hand soap, and a tank full of gasoline would last.  Gasoline wouldn’t have come to mind, but San Antonio flipped its collective lid back in 2017 and caused a shortage after Hurricane Harvey out of self-induced hysteria.  I was pleased to discover that a roll of toilet paper and a twelve-ounce bottle of hand soap each lasted about three weeks.   I was also happy to discover I was getting two months to a tank of gas in my Honda CR-V because I was only driving to the grocery store.  At one point I did have to hunt for toilet paper for a friend who was running low.  Lucky for her, I was fortunate enough to find some and save the day. 

A nice habit that I picked up during this time was walking to the nearby dollar store to pick up things in between my main grocery store trips.  At first, the pleasant weather of late March and April made for some nice afternoon walks, but as the Texas summer started to do its thing, those trips got pushed further and further into the evening until eventually I would wait until after sundown to head out.

Of course, once I was done with work, I had to do something for entertainment, so I’ve been watching movies from my DVD and Blu-ray collection, and even picking up a few new ones to while the evenings away.  I’ve actually been keeping track of what I’ve been watching, and I’m up to about eighty movies so far, not counting repeated viewings of Casino and Goodfellas.  I’ve also gone through all the original cast Star Trek and the first series of Batman movies.  I think I’ll try Star Wars next, but I’m not sure how far I want to go with those.  I recently reactivated my NetFlix account and have enjoyed the new shows that my friends have been talking about, like BNA, Beastars, and Warrior Nun.

Except for going to the grocery store or to restaurants and fast food joints for take-out, I spend all my time at home.  As I’m sure many of you will also attest, the days began to blur together.  Weekends suddenly became meaningless, because there was nothing happening to look forward to.  No comic cons, no camping trips, no local theme park visits, no casino trips, not even a trip to the mall. Instead, Saturdays and Sundays became the days that I didn’t sign into my work laptop…yippee.

And, as fate would have it, not long after I got settled into that new normal, it was thrown out of the window after I got laid off.  If you’d like to hear the gory details, you can go back two episodes.  Suddenly, instead of sitting at my work laptop hunting for trouble tickets to work on, the better part of my day was now filled with absolutely nothing!  

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I mail back my work laptop.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more wonderfully weird words written by me!  As always, I thank you for listening! 

Be Good, Take Care, and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #107: “My Coronavirus Story Part 3: Laid Off”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

If you are looking for a professional voice to represent your business, your organization, or yourself, send me an email at edsoliz@gmail.com.

And now, on with the show:

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 107, “My Coronavirus Story Part 3, Laid Off,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

April the 30th of this miserable year of 2020 was just another day at home in this weird time that is both very interesting and yet uninteresting at the same time.  The company I work at had closed all of its offices back in mid-March as the nation started trying to come to grips with the pandemic.  My job, as a deskside technician, was to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the San Antonio office, but now that the office had been closed, my workdays consisted of sitting at my dining room table on my work laptop hunting through open incidents for something to do.  Thanks to the lock-down, the number of remote techs working from home had multiplied five-fold, so the pickings were very slim.

A fellow tech had posted a ticket into our group chat asking for help, so I seized the opportunity and raised my virtual hand. I had been hired in December and there was still a lot that I didn’t know.  Thus, I began searching through the knowledge base so I that wouldn’t be flying completely blind when I got in touch with the customer.

I had barely started to read the first article when the message: “Do you have time for a call?” popped up on my screen.  I frowned at my dumb luck.  Of course, the boss has to ping me the one time that I actually had something to do.  But, you know, he’s the boss, so I replied:  “Sure, I have time.” 

“Okay, I’m sending a meeting request.”

I logged onto the video chat to find my boss and two other people that I had never met before on my screen.

My Spidey-sense started tingling.  The first thought that popped in my head was:  This is it, I’m being let go.  In my mind, the two newcomers were the online equivalent of someone bringing a security guard with a cardboard box to your desk.

Once my boss introduced the pair of morose-looking gentlemen as being from Human Resources, my internal estimate of whether I was about to be let go from my job went from ninety-nine percent to one hundred.   The only question now was going to be whether I was going to be laid off or fired. 

The HR guys introduced themselves; one of them said that he was sorry we were meeting for the first time under these circumstances.  I almost cracked a joke about this being the last time we were meeting, too. I kinda wish I had.  Maybe it would have lightened the mood a little.  Then again, it may have also made the unfortunate proceedings about to happen even more awkward.  I chose to be a professional and held my tongue, which was probably the smarter thing to do.

After introducing them, my boss pretty much let the HR guys take over the meeting.  He didn’t even bother looking into the camera, which was off to the side of his PC.  I later found out that I wasn’t the only person to be let go, so perhaps he was setting up those meetings as well.  I can’t say I envied him having that job, but at least he still had one.

Having been fired before as well as having been part of a mass layoff, I knew what was coming.   We’re very sorry it had to come to this.  Business needs.  This wasn’t planned in advance.  Blah blah blah.  The only part I was interested in was whether I was being laid off or fired.  I did a Mr. Spock eyebrow-raise at what I thought were some questionable statements, such as:

This is about business needs, which translates to: This is about saving money.  That statement would have gone over better if I hadn’t had to sit in on an hour-long presentation with our CFO just the day before where he mentioned that the company was doing fairly well in spite of the lockdown.  Yeah, that definitely does not computer.

This wasn’t planned in advance: Yeah, I don’t buy this for a second, especially given that it was a large company.  Large companies never do anything quickly.  It had been a month and a half since the office had closed down, and I wonder if there was some threshold they were waiting to hit before dropping the axe.  If that statement was true, a company that just drops people at the drop of a hat isn’t the kind of company I want to work for.  Granted, that issue seems to have taken care of itself, but still. 

There were also a whole mess of things involving health insurance that I won’t go into here because this is 300 seconds and not 600.  For those interested, the gory details of that mess are posted on my blog at Eduardo Soliz dot com.

Near the end of that whole sad affair, I was told to not mention anything to my coworkers, because others were going to be let go as well.  Sure.  A box would be shipped out so that I could return my work laptop and charger.  I also had an access card for the office and a skeleton key, so I offered to get in touch with my local manager to return those items to her.  I was told: “I know it sounds silly, but put those things in the box and mail them over to Milwaukee.”  In my mind I thought: That doesn’t sound silly. It sounds stupid.  But, I didn’t fight it.

The meeting done with, began to clean up the improvised home workspace that would go back to being my dining room table.  I quickly discovered that my work access had been revoked, so score one for efficiency.

I sighed, logged out of my work laptop for the last time, and then came to an unfortunate realization:

I had forgotten to reassign that ticket.  Oh well.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I visit the job websites.  For more witty words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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Super-Short Storytime: “Reunion”

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Welcome to Super-Short Storytime, Dear Listeners!  I am Eduardo Soliz, the author and narrator of the terrifically tiny tale that you are about to hear:

While it can be nice to run into someone that you’ve not seen in many years, there are times when you find out just why it was you lost touch.  One such meeting is the focus of this nonsensical narration that I call: “Reunion.”

“Are you Shawn Cook?” A timid voice asked.

Shawn turned around at the sound of his name, taking care not to upset the cup of coffee he held in one hand or strike any passers-by with the briefcase he carried in the other. The well-dressed businessman glanced over the source of the question with narrowed eyes.  Before him stood a small man with dark unkempt hair wearing a lab coat. He held what appeared to be a ray-gun from an old science-fiction movie in one hand. The small man peered back at Shawn from behind a pair of thick glasses.

“Richard? Richard Wave from Central High? Class of ‘98?” Shawn guessed.

“Yes.”

A crooked smile lit up Shawn’s face. “Wow! Long time no see, Tricky Dick!” Richard winced at the nickname and raised the ray-gun at Shawn, who continued his taunting. “Ooo, what are you going to do, disintegrate me?” He scoffed. Richard pulled the ray-run’s trigger.  A blue beam of energy shot from its end and struck Shawn in the stomach. The businessman yelled in pain as his body quickly began to freeze. Onlookers and passers-by panicked at the sight of Shawn’s body turning to ice, many running away screaming in terror. Within seconds, Shawn’s body was completely frozen.

“I always hated that name.” A frowning Richard said in a low voice. He lowered the freeze gun and placed it into a coat pocket. Content that the gun was secure, the small man leapt towards Shawn’s frozen body and shoved into it as hard as he could with his shoulder. The frozen body toppled over onto the sidewalk and shattered into countless pieces, casting the crowd into an even further panic.

Richard calmly pulled out a pad and a pen from his coat, ignoring the panicked screams that he had long become accustomed to hearing. He flipped to a familiar page with a list of names and let out a contented sigh before messily scribbling over the name “Shawn.”

The mad scientist read the next name on the list quietly to himself: “Meghan.” Richard closed his eyes and released a wistful sigh. A twisted smile then appeared on his face and he said aloud to no one in particular: “Oh, dearest Meghan. It’s been too long, or perhaps, not long enough! Hee-hee-hee!”

THE END.

If you don’t have anything nice to say to someone, Dear Listeners, don’t say anything at all, and if they happen to have a freeze gun, you might want to start running for your life.  This has been Super-Short Storytime.  Visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more fantastically flashy fiction, and I hope it isn’t too long before we meet again, Dear Listeners!

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #105: “My Coronavirus Story Part 2- Work From Home?”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 105, “My Coronavirus Story Part Two: Work From Home?” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I am a creature of habit.  As such, I like routines, especially when it comes to my job.  Wake up at a certain time, go for a walk, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, drive to the office, drink coffee, fix stuff, drink coffee, have lunch, drink some more coffee, fix some more stuff and then drive home.  Monday through Friday, five days out of the week, that is my work life and I’m fine with it.  I don’t do quite as well with open-ended jobs where I am left to my own devices without an overarching plan of some sort, but that’s a topic for another time. 

Monday, March the 16th was my first full week of working from home following the shutdown of our offices the previous week (and the previous episode) so I had to create a new routine to settle into.  I set my work laptop up on the dinner table and dedicated that space to be my ‘home office’ for the time being.  Like everything else in life, the new normal that I settled into had its ups and downs.  One immediate improvement was that since I no longer had a commute, that time that I was spending on the road could be put to better use in bed sleeping.  Not having to wear pants or even a polo shirt was also nice.  The biggest downsides of working from home were the lack of human contact and the blurring of lines between home life and work life.  I’m one of these people who likes to use a giant metaphorical Sharpie to draw a big thick metaphorical line between my home life and my work life.  I will say that having a dedicated work area away from my personal space helped immensely.  After all, even before we were forced to isolate, the dining room table didn’t get much use.

My new routine quickly became: wake up, go for a walk, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, sit at the dining room table, log into my work laptop, have a cup of coffee, wait for things to happen, have lunch, sign in to our afternoon meeting, wait for things to happen again, and then log out of the laptop.  There wasn’t much work to do for reasons I’ll go into in a moment.

But first, I have to bring up our daily meetings.  Holy cats, those daily meetings sucked.  Over the course of my 20+ year career, daily meetings have always sucked.  Inevitably, they turn into the same thing every day and they usually go away in favor of weekly meetings which eventually go away to monthly meetings, which eventually die out completely.  Our daily meetings got dull to the point where our supervisor flat-out told us that he didn’t even care for them, but we had to have them because the home office said so.  Thus, every day we all spent the better part of five or ten minutes looking at our screens waiting for somebody else to bring up a question or issue that hadn’t already been bought up in our team chat.  It rarely happened.

Another thing that rarely happened was actual work.  We had a small team of techs that handled remote issues over the phone.  It was very rare that we in-person techs had to pick up their slack because they were always on the ball.  But with everyone working from home, we now had four to five times as many techs now handling the same number of remote issues.  At first, there was work to do helping folks, particularly the staff members, get their work from home setups established, but once that was over with the amount of work available to everyone dried up considerably.  We were stuck hunting for open tickets in the system and occasionally asking if there were things we could help with in chat and during our daily meetings. 

The days turned into weeks, and with no end to the pandemic on the horizon, I couldn’t help but wonder how long this state of affairs would last.  I would get an answer to that question at the end of April, and you’ll get the answer in the next episode.

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I make a cup of coffee.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more wonderfully weird words written by me!  I am Eduardo Soliz and I thank you for listening!  Be Good, Take Care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #104: “My Coronavirus Story: The Fiesta’s Over”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who rather prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode on Podomatic.com!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number one hundred and four: “My Coronavirus Story: The Fiesta’s Over,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

For me, the whole coronavirus business started with an e-mail that dropped into my inbox one afternoon in mid-March, which now seems so long ago.  My job at the time was being the computer tech at a local night school.  The campus was small and the people there were nice, so it was a pretty cushy gig.  Except for the weirdo night school schedule and having to work the occasional Saturday, it would have been the perfect job, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I was aware of the coronavirus situation, though not a whole lot had changed for me personally; the security guard would spend time each day sanitizing door latches with Lysol and I had started sanitizing the keyboards and mice that were in the classrooms.  The week before, there had been a bit of a stir when one of the folks in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base had gone to a local mall before testing positive for the virus, resulting in the mall shutting down for deep cleaning.  I remember Mayor Nirenberg having lunch at that mall after the reopening to reassure the public that all was well; I had actually gone to the same mall for lunch that day and joked to my friends about missing him.  While at the mall, I asked the gal at the register if things had slowed own and she gave a resounding yes with no hesitation whatsoever.

Otherwise, Thursday, March the 12th of 2020 was just another day at the office for me keeping computers, projectors, servers, staff, and professors up and running.  Sometime after lunch, the e-mail that would change everything arrived.  That night’s classes would be the final one of the session because all campuses were closing down.  From here on out, classes would be online only and everyone would be working from home.  That meant that folks had to gather up laptops, docks, monitors, keyboards, mice and pretty much anything else they might need to work from home.  The email mentioned that the closure would be through the end of the month, though I quickly heard rumors that the closure would last though the end of April.

My day became much more interesting after that. All I had to do to prepare for working from home was pack my work laptop and the professors were already accustomed to working from home.  That left campus staff who came to me asking for extra cables, headsets, mice, monitors and even a few docking stations.  After I took care of them, I began packing up the personal items that I had in my office.  That took some time, because as office workers are oft to do, I had accumulated quite a few things.  My Spidey-sense told me that I would not be coming back for a while, so I packed everything up.  Of course, at the time, nobody had any idea of how bad things were going to get.

The next day, March the thirteenth, was a sad and crazy day in San Antonio both at the same time.  Speculation had been circulating that Fiesta, the Alamo City’s 17-day long celebration of Texas independence, would be cancelled, and on that day, it was.  I honestly believe that the majority of folks in San Antonio did not take the coronavirus seriously until Fiesta was cancelled.  I say this because I decided to take a trip to HEB during my lunch break for a few things and it was INSANE.  The closest parking spot was in front of the store next door, and upon stepping inside, I was greeted by a mob of people with full shopping carts lined up all the way to the back of the store.  I quickly left upon seeing this and went to another store that wasn’t quite as packed.

I spent that workday logged into my work laptop monitoring queues and chats, waiting for something to happen.  It didn’t.

Ready or not, The New Normal was here to stay; it was just a matter of how long it was going to last.  It would turn to be longer than I had hoped and also shorter than I had expected.  You’ll see what I mean in the next episode.

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I double-check on my stock of toilet paper.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more words written by me!  I am Eduardo Soliz and I thank you for listening!

Be Good, Take Care and God Bless.

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Laid Off

Person in a bear costume sitting at a dinner table behind a laptop. He is wearing a yellow polo shirt and holding a coffee mug with the words "What's the Rush?" on it.

Working beary hard!

I was spending another day at home in this weird time that is both interesting and yet uninteresting. The company I work at had closed all of its offices back in mid-March as the nation started coming to grips with the pandemic. My job, as a deskside technician, was to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the San Antonio office. Now that the office had been closed, my workdays consisted of sitting at my dining room table on my work laptop hunting through open incidents for something to do. Thanks to the lock-down, the number of remote techs working from home had multiplied five-fold, so the pickings were very slim.

A fellow tech had posted a ticket into our group chat asking for help, so I raised my virtual hand and seized the opportunity. I had been hired in December, so there was still a lot that I didn’t know. Thus, I began searching through our knowledge base so I wouldn’t be flying completely blind.

I had barely started to read the first article I had found, when the message: “Do you have time for a call?” popped up on my screen. It was from my boss.  I frowned at my dumb luck. Of course, the boss has to ping me the one time that I actually had something to do. But he’s the boss, so I replied: “Sure, I have time.”

“Okay, I’m sending a meeting request.” He replied.

What I call ‘Eduardo’s dumb luck’ kicked in again as my boss’ video chat request kept popping up on my phone instead of on my laptop. We use Microsoft Teams, and as much as I like Microsoft, their software seems to get squirrely as all heck once it’s running on something that isn’t Windows. After five awkward minutes of me sending “No, I can’t connect to the meeting” to my boss while walking around my home looking the cellular sweet spot that I hoped would make it start working on my phone, my laptop suddenly became cooperative. I joined the chat to find my boss and two other people that I had never met before on my screen.

My Spidey-sense started tingling. The first thought that popped in my head was: This is it, I’m being let go. To me, the newcomers were the online equivalent of a security guard carrying a cardboard box showing up at your desk.

Once my boss introduced the pair of morose looking gentlemen as being from Human Resources, my internal estimate of whether I was about to be let go went from ninety-nine percent to one hundred.   The only question now was going to be whether I was going to be laid off or fired.

The HR guys introduced themselves; one of them said that he was sorry we were meeting for the first time under these circumstances. I almost cracked a joke about this being the last time we were meeting, too. I wish I had. Maybe it would have lightened the mood a little. Then again, it may have also made the unfortunate proceedings even more awkward. I chose to be a professional and held my tongue.

After the introduction, my boss pretty much let the HR guys take over the meeting.  He didn’t even bother looking into the camera, which was off to the side of his PC. Whatever was happening on his screen had his full attention; I later found out that I wasn’t the only person to be let go, so perhaps he was setting up those meetings as well. I can’t say I envied him having that job, but at least he still had one.

Having been fired before as well as having been part of a mass layoff, I knew what was coming. We’re very sorry it had to come to this. Business needs. This wasn’t planned in advance. Blah blah blah. The only part I was interested in was whether I was being laid off or fired. I did a Mr. Spock eyebrow-raise at what I thought were some questionable statements, such as:

This is about business needs, which translates to: This is about saving money. That statement would have gone over a lot better if I hadn’t had to sit in on an hour long presentation from our CFO the day before where he mentioned that the company was doing fairly well in spite of the lockdown. Yeah, that does not computer at all.

This wasn’t planned in advance: I don’t buy this for a second, especially given that it was a large company. Large companies never do anything quickly. It had been a month and a half since the office closure, and I wonder if there was some threshold they were waiting to hit. Even if that statement was true, a company that just drops people at the drop of a hat isn’t the kind of company I want to work for. Granted, that issue seems to have taken care of itself, but still.

They then started talking about health insurance, which is super-important for me. I found it interesting that the HR guys bought up COBRA (probably a requirement) but they didn’t bring up signing up for health care though the Affordable Care Act. Granted, I’m already aware of both, but not bringing up the ACA is doing a disservice to people. COBRA premiums are insanely expensive and in my experience, the ACA provided good coverage at a much lower cost. When I needed temporary health insurance last year when in between jobs, the cost of an unsubsidized ACA plan premium and my medications combined were lower than the COBRA premium by itself.  So if you are staring down the barrel of a crazy expensive COBRA payment, do yourself a favor and look into the ACA at healthcare.gov.

Finally, as someone who takes medication regularly for a chronic condition, being let go on the last day of a month was an extremely lousy thing to do, because it meant I had to immediately request refills and pray they were ready before my coverage ran out at the end of the day. Otherwise, I was going on the hook for a few hundred dollars. If this spiel is coming off as a little angry, that’s why.

Near the end of that whole sad affair, I was told to not mention anything to my coworkers, because others were also going to be let go. Sure. A box would be shipped out so that I could return my work laptop and charger. I also had an access card for the office and a skeleton key, so I offered to get in touch with my manager to return those items. I was told that to return those items with the laptop to the home office in Milwaukee, even though ‘we know it sounds redundant.’ In my mind I thought: That doesn’t sound redundant. That sounds stupid. But I didn’t fight it.

My last work meeting over with, I requested refills from my pharmacy (another painful experience that I won’t go into here) and began to clean up the improvised home workspace that would go back to being my dining room table. About an hour later, I heard a message ping come from the laptop. One of my now-former coworkers had also been let go and had sent a good-bye message to the group in chat. I figured that the cat was out of the bag, so I should probably send one too. Later, after cleaning up, I discovered that my access to work chat and email had already been revoked. Score one for efficiency. I sighed, closed my work laptop for the last time and then came to an unfortunate realization:

I had forgotten to reassign the ticket.

Oh well.

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Super-Short Storytime: “A Runaway Tale”

Welcome to Super-Short Storytime, dear listeners! I am Eduardo Soliz, the author and narrator of the wonderfully weird words that you are about to hear:

Folks that dont work at home are often envious of those that do.  Creative people in particular are often told that they are, quote, very lucky, to work from home, but what most people dont realize is that doing so comes with challenges of its own. I call this brief book-writers battle: A Runaway Tale

The writer sat behind her computer, typing away while her latest novel-in-progress sat next to her keyboard.  Her novel, a one hundred and fifty page  book, dangled its stubby legs over the edge of her desk and lazily swung them back and forth.

“Just a few more paragraphs to go, and I’m done, right?”  The novel asked impatiently.

“Not quite.  You’ll be a first draft.”  The writer answered.

“Really?  What else is there to do?”  The novel asked, its curiosity now piqued.

“Let’s see,” the writer said, placing a hand under her chin to think for a moment.  “I have to fix grammar and spelling errors, make sure you don’t have any plot holes, fill them in if there are any, cut out any extra exposition that isn’t needed…” The writer started to explain before the novel interrupted her.

“Time out!  What’s this about cutting?”  The novel said, now clearly agitated.  “I think I’m just fine the way I am.”

“Mmm, no.”  The writer insisted.  “We have a ways to go before you’re done, so calm down and let’s get back to work.”

“You are NOT cutting anything out of me!”  The novel cried before jumping off the desk and landing on the floor in between the writer’s feet.

The writer awkwardly reached under her chair with both hands in an attempt to retrieve the novel.  “Darn it!  Get back here!”  She demanded.  The novel eluded her grasp and ran across the floor.  It looked back and forth, unsure of just where to go, but it was certain that it wanted to get as far away from its creator as it could.

“Will you just relax?” The frustrated writer said.  She stood up from her desk while the novel scurried to hide behind a couch.  The writer looked about the room briefly before yelling: “It’s part of the writing process!”

The writer heard rustling behind the couch.  She tiptoed up to it, being careful to make as little noise as possible.

From behind the couch, the novel nervously blurted out: “Don’t mind me!  I’ll just be here holding up the short leg of the couch!  You can forget about me, now!”  It pleaded.

“Oh no, I’m not going through that again.  Not after that one time you hid yourself under my other projects.” The writer replied.  She placed both hands on one of the couch’s armrests and shook it in order to frighten the novel.

“Stop that!  You’re going to make me sheet myself!” The frightened novel cried.

The writer stopped shaking the couch.  She crossed her arms across her chest, impatiently blew a few stray strands of hair from one eye and asked: “Just what is your problem?”

“I’m scared!  You’re going to cut me up into little pieces and scatter my pages to the four winds!  I’m perfect just the way I am!”  The novel insisted.

The author groaned to herself and thought for a moment.  She spoke again, but softened her tone in order to coax her wayward work from its hiding place.  “Look, you’re a rough draft, sweetie.  You’re raw and full of potential, but before we send you to the printer I have to trim you down, tone you up and make you pretty!  Every novel goes through this and you know what?  They all come out looking better in the end.  Trust me, when we’re done, everybody is going love you.”  She reassured.

“Well, when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound THAT bad…” The novel said thoughtfully.  “Okay, let’s do it!  Make me awesome!”  It cheerfully said before walking out from behind the couch to be picked up by the author.

Yeah, guess I better not tell it about the editor, the author thought to herself with a grin as he carried her now-relieved novel back to her desk.

THE END.

Given that my works are short in nature, I cant imagine it would be easy to have to chase down a few sheets of paper, Dear Listener.  This has been Super-Short Storytime!  Visit eduardosoliz.com for more stories and podcasts, and remember: Working from home is still working!

 

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